Last year US emissions grew—despite clean and renewable energy accounting for 53 percent of US electric generation. Sounds counterintuitive, but the US consumed more energy in 2018 thanks to economic growth and weather conditions, even while energy costs declined. Without the added clean energy and energy efficiency measures the US would have produced far more CO2 and pollution.
That’s according to the 2019 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook published by BloombergNEF (BNEF) and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE). It’s the 7th annual edition of the factbook.
“Continued expansion of sustainable energy is not just beneficial to the environment, it is an engine of American economic growth,” BCSE president Lisa Jacobson explained. “In our seventh year of analysis, we found that energy efficiency, natural gas and renewable energy continue to be key economic drivers. At the same time, they contribute substantially to important efforts to reduce emissions and develop modern and resilient infrastructure.”
Still, 2018 posed some interesting questions for the US’s energy outlook looking forward. Chief among them: Can emissions be held in check as the US economy grow? Also, can clean energy and energy efficiency measures, continue to help decouple a relationship between increased energy use and economic growth?
The factbook suggests that overall, that yes, that it is the case despite what happened in 2018. Over the past 10 years, it found that energy consumption in the US only grew 7.5 percent while the US economy grew 22 percent and that energy productivity, a comparison of energy consumption to gross domestic production, grew 14 percent over the period. Last year was an outlier as energy consumption grew 3.3 percent, while the economy grew 2.9 percent, a decline in energy productivity of 0.4 percent, according to the factbook.
Those factors led to an increase in greenhouse gasses of 2.5 percent in 2018, the factbook found. The electric generation sector, however, continued to reduce its emissions. The factbook attributed the rise to in emissions to increases in the buildings and industrial sectors and noted that transportation accounted for the largest share of CO2 emissions but noted that it has the greatest potential for CO2 emissions reduction.
“More coal plants closing and being replaced by cleaner sources of power marked a key trend that continued in 2018,” said Ethan Zindler, BloombergNEF's head of Americas. “However, the overall jump in CO₂ emissions during 2018 is a clear reminder that technological advancements on their own cannot address the climate challenge. Strong, supportive policies are needed at the local, state, as well as federal level.”
The report also found that energy efficiency investments are increasing, reaching $15 billion in 2017 and more states have adopted energy efficiency building measures in 2018. Meanwhile, renewable energy investments are continues to grow, led by solar. The report found that solar power added 11.6 gigawatts in the US in 2018 and wind added 7.5 gigawatts. Overall, renewables added a total of 19.5 gigawatts of energy in 2018.
The report also noted other positive trends in 2018. Including record numbers of renewable energy contracts that were signed by retailers, major technology firms, and even a big oil company in 2018. Meanwhile more states promised to move to 100 percent renewable energy.
There’s also hope in the transportation sector as growth in EV sales showed a strong increase. Though they still remain a small percentage of overall sales, in the fourth quarter of 2017, they only represented 1.3 percent of total vehicles sold in the US. By the fourth quarter, they represented 3 percent of sales.Tweet